The new owners, Rick and Sara DeRidder, have a lot of exotic animal experience, he said. Hurricane Irma delayed the closing for about 10 days.
A Cocoa Beach family has bought a zoo, and plans to live on the premises, “zoo-schooling” their three children.
“The animals needed our help and we needed a zoo as bad as the zoo needed us,” said Rick DeRidder, who bought the zoo with his wife Sara. The couple had previously owned a small zoo in Alto, Michigan.
The DeRidders closed on the sale of the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park Thursday. The 10-acre zoo, just east of Crestview, has 90 exotic animals. It was formerly the Sasquatch Zoo.
The refuge took it over in 2013, renovating the aging facility and upgrading animal habitats. It was sold with the condition that the new owners keep the staff and that they continue to run it as a zoo.
“It’s just a win-win-win the way we see it,” said Bill Andersen, president and chairman of the ECWR board. “The proceeds of the zoo (sale) are going to help us with funding our relocation efforts on property my wife and I have donated in Navarre.”
The DeRidders, who live in Cocoa Beach, evacuated during Hurricane Irma, which delayed the sale of the zoo by about 10 days. They crowded into a Volkswagon minibus with their own collection of exotic animals and rode the storm out in Crestview.
The DeRidders sold the zoo in Michigan so that Rick could film Swamp Brothers with the Discovery Channel. He later started his own show, Wild Transport, on the A&E channel.
“We were going to do another show but I wanted to get back into taking care of animals,” he said. “This zoo really came across at the perfect time.
“It’s hands-on, it’s a smaller private zoo and these animals all have a a cool story,” he added. “I feel like our family is the same way.”